All Over The Map: Sink your teeth into history at Market House Corned Beef

Jul 15, 2022, 11:40 AM | Updated: Oct 25, 2022, 4:20 pm

A downtown Seattle business has been selling corned beef and other cured meats from the same location for nearly 75 years, first offering their wares when President Harry Truman was in the White House.

Market House Corned Beef is on Howell Street near Interstate 5, a block over from Stewart Street, and not far from that oddball “short runway” southbound on-ramp to the freeway, at the corner of Howell and Minor.

For at least the last 40 years or so, the exterior of the business has looked like something from a different era, and the out-of-step look has become even more pronounced as that part of Seattle saw more and more demolition and redevelopment. Some people – including a certain radio historian – who recall driving by Market House in the 1980s were certain it had gone away 20 years ago. Those same people were pleasantly surprised when some photos – current photos of the place, open for business – were recently posted on social media.

When it was founded by brothers Mike and Sam Akrish not long after World War II, the business was originally called Market House Meats and it was operated as a supplier of kosher-style, cured meats – corned beef and pastrami – to all kinds of restaurants and hotels, as well as to individual customers. They still sell to local places like Daniel’s Broiler, Tom Douglas, Canlis, and have expanded to grocery chains. They also regularly ship orders to various customers in other parts of the U.S. It was about 20 years ago when Market House also started selling sandwiches.

That move came after the next generation of the Akrish family sold the business in 2005 to a man named Vic Embry, who the Seattle Post-Intelligencer credits with introducing the sandwich business into what had been, essentially, a retail and wholesale specialty meat shop. That sandwich business caught on.

So, in 2015, Embry sold Market House to Mazen Mahmoud.

Mahmoud is in his sixties and is originally from Jordan. He came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington in 1980 where he earned a degree in engineering. He worked for many years in the food service industry and operated multiple restaurants. Mahmoud says he had big plans to make some serious changes to Market House Corned Beef when he bought the business seven years ago.

“When I first bought the store here, the idea was maybe, ‘Okay, let’s spiff it up, let’s see, you know,’ because I had some restaurant experience,” Mahmoud told KIRO Newsradio, as he sat for a moment in Market House Corned Beef’s dining area, having just finished a stint at the busy cash register. “And I told my wife, we’ll buy it and change it. It’s a nice location.”

But then, Mahmoud went to work and had a chance to see first-hand how Market Place Corned Beef really operated, and to better appreciate its true value as a business and a local institution.

“After two months I said, ‘You know, why [change anything]? This is history here, and ‘if it ain’t broke then don’t fix it,’” Mahmoud said.

Seven years later, Mahmoud has no regrets about ditching those plans to make big changes.

“It’s just going strong and I’m glad,” Mahmoud said. “That was one of the best decisions I have made was to buy this location and to keep it as is.”

Another thing that Mazen Mahmoud didn’t change was the secret Market House recipe – or procedures, really – for making corned beef. And just what is it that distinguishes corned beef from other meats or other ways to prepare beef?

“It’s the way you brine it and the way you cure it, and the spices you add to it,” Mahmoud told KIRO Newsradio. “You start with the brisket and then you make the brine. There is about seven ingredients that go into it. So you inject it, and let it cure in the cooler for about three [to] four days.”

“And then after that,” Mahmoud continued, “you take it out and you cook it, and then you trim the fat. And we let it cool overnight in the cooler. And then the next day, you slice it when it’s cold, and then it goes on the grill whenever somebody orders.”

The secret recipes and techniques, Mahmoud says, live in a locked file cabinet in a place at Market House called the “Spice Room.” And sure enough, he walked across the restaurant, unlocked a door and then showed off the Spice Room and its file cabinet, which looks like something out of the Cold War-era Pentagon.

Not changing anything was a wise and (in 21st century Seattle) a highly unusual move by Mazen Mahmoud, mainly because the charm of Market House – along with the tasty food – comes from the fact the interior is like a museum: simple, unadorned, non-ironic, authentic. Like an eating establishment you might see in a much older American city like Boston or Baltimore.

Other longtime business owners or recent purchasers of Seattle-area institutions would do well to also consider this “why change anything?” option before automatically calling in the remodelers and/or brand consultants.

In the meantime, for those with a taste for cured meats and love for a Seattle from an earlier era, Market House Corned Beef is truly a place where you can sink your teeth into local history.

Market House Corned Beef  is located at 1124 Howell Street in downtown Seattle and is open Monday through Saturday for breakfast and lunch.

You can hear Feliks every Wednesday and Friday morning on Seattle’s Morning News with Dave Ross and Colleen O’Brien, read more from him here, and subscribe to The Resident Historian Podcast here. If you have a story idea or questions, please email Feliks here.

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All Over The Map: Sink your teeth into history at Market House Corned Beef